16yrold earned his producer tag when he was — you guessed it — 16 years old. “I'll probably just shorten it to 16,” he remarks when I ask if he plans on keeping the stage name now that he’s aged passed it. For the past year, the 20-year-old rising beat maker has been making tidal waves in the hip-hop underground by producing melodic, piano-driven trap tunes for the internet’s eclectic rap scene.
Originally from Cleveland but raised in a small northeastern Ohio town of Lorain, 16yrold departed the midwest after high school to pursue his dreams of producing in New York. The change of scenery put him in touch with a pool of aspiring artists like D Savage, and helped him to build a platform, both in person and online. But in an age where producers aim to share the spotlight with the artists, he doesn't seek attention, instead letting his music speak for itself. His social media presence is practically nonexistent, and he rarely showcases photos of himself. His SoundCloud — where he posts most of his tracks — is a different story though, and shows a consistent stream of placements alongside up and comers and underground stars like Yung Bans, Desiigner, Sheck Wes, SahBabii, Chxpo, and Lucki.
This steady grind looks to be working for 16yrold; just last year, G.O.O.D. music cohort Steven Victor, who is also Vice President of A&R at Universal Music reached out to the budding producer and signed him to a deal with Republic Records, which led to 16 nabbing a role in Desiigner’s latest nationwide tour among other things. “Before I signed I was already a legend,” he quips during our conversation over the phone. The statement sounds brash, but it’s consistent with 16yrold’s nonchalant, unbothered demeanor; it’s clear that he’s here to do things his way.
When did you get into producing and making music?
My brother showed me Fruity Loops when I was a little ass kid as a joke. He thought it would be funny to see a little kid fucking around on Fruity Loops. When I was in kindergarten he was a senior in high school. He was really deep into the internet, before memes were memes, he was showing me memes. He never really made beats but he had the program.
My whole life I always wanted to music but I started playing a couple instruments and that shit wasn't for me. Middle school, I was on some, Oh, I'm gonna rap, then I started rapping. I got a microphone and I didn't really know how to finesse my vocals to make them sound good. So then I was like, Fuck this rap shit, I'm bout to become somebody by making music, whether it was me rapping or me making a beat. So I just started picking up the Fruity Loops again and tried to go up with it.
Listening to your beats, I hear a lot of intricate piano lines and it sounds like you mess with the keys a lot. Did you ever learn music theory or did you pick things up as you went?
I tried taking music theory in high school because I thought it'd be fun or whatever, but it was really just them teaching me about music history and weird shit like that. When it came time to worry about all that other shit, the real shit, it just got confusing and made no sense to me. I ended up dropping that class. If it's a collab beat, I probably did the melody though.
If there was one instrument you'd wanna learn to play, what would it be?
Looking back, do you think there was a pivotal decision you made that you think got you to this point?
I never walked at my high school graduation, so I never knew that I graduated. My mom told me she got my diploma but I never seen it. So I basically dropped out and went to New York and tried to spread my name out there. Just being there I met hella people that I never would have met if I didn't leave my town.
It wasn't just rich kids where I'm from, it was a real diverse financial set of kids. A lot of my friends was broke and shit like that. My family too. My family not rich, nobody graduated college in my fam; my mom’s from an island [off the coast of] Puerto Rico and moved here when she was 20. I just didn't know how none of this life shit would work out.
Tell me about coming to New York and trying to get your name out there.
New York is just a lot of people tryna be somebody. A lot of people are very easily persuaded or whatever. I was just doing a lot of finessing. It wasn't even like I came to New York and I was automatically associated with people. I had to meet a lot of people through random everyday interactions. Maybe I link up with somebody off the internet that I never met before, and that would plug me into somebody else. But for the most part, I didn't really even have a circle in New York. It was me backpacking around tryna finesse it, and then I got an apartment because I signed with Steven Victor [Republic].
How did that deal come about?
[Steven] met me, fucked with me, and we just chose to become partners. That’s my bro. He pretty much made me and Ski [Mask the Slump God] become close friends. I consider Ski a very close friend of mine. Me and D Savage became dumb close because of Steven. He's brought me all over the country. He put me in rooms with The-Dream, Pusha T...hella people.
The year that I spent in New York before I moved there, just backpacking around, Steven didn't know who I was, and I didn't know Steven. One day, he randomly just DM’d me on Instagram, and then the next day he flew me out to New York — because I was in Cleveland — and then we started talking.
You seem to have a lot of confidence in your direction. Have there been points where doubt set in and you didn’t think things would work?
I was dumb anxious about a lot of shit, because there's a lot of rich kids, and people going to school where I'm from and in surrounding areas, and I was just choosing to go an alternative route. I didn't know how it would go; of course, I was making moves on the internet, but when Steven flew me out, that verified me and validated me. It made me feel like, I just got flew out because of some MP3 files. There was a lot of weird shit going on before all this started popping off. I don't really know how to talk to people, so people are easily ruffled by me. I would burn my bridges before I even started walking on that bitch. I had to do it all by me for real. A lot of weird relationships of mine falling through and all that.
You went on your first tour last year with Desiigner. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
I had a set before his. I was DJing, I mean I knew how to DJ, but I didn't really know. It was my first time on tour, and to be honest, it was just me going to all these cities. My manager dipped out halfway through the tour, so it was literally just me all over the United States. It was real hard. I was real alone; I was doing a lot of drugs.
I don't really like touring, I don't really like shows, that shit weird. I like playing shows, but when you go on tour, you wake up, get no sleep, pack all your shit, check out the hotel, make it to your flight on time, get off the flight and go to the next hotel, check in, go to the venue, work out all the tension between you and the event staff, they be acting like hoes. I hate touring, bruh. I'm so thankful they let me go on that though, because it let me see more of the world.I had never really saw the United States. It was cool, but it was really lonely.
Did you have any experience with DJing before that?
I'd play house parties and shit like that, but it was a whole different vibe. They expected us to go up there and be like, "Portland!!! Are you ready!!!!!" I'm not that type, bro. I just go up there and sauce out. I was playing the music I like. I didn't know you gotta play the certified bangers. The difference between a rap show and a dance show is: at a dance show, you could play whatever and everybody gon' dance, but at a rap show, everybody will stand around until they hear a song they like.
Do you find it’s better working with artists online or making music in person?
With rappers, we gotta do that shit in person. With producers, of course a better product is gonna be made in person, but it don't even matter to me on the producing side. We could make a beat over the net and that would be cool with me. I made hella beats with people I've never met before..
Why does it have to be in the studio with the rapper?
When we're in the studio it's a different vibe. I like to be embedded in my songs; when I do a song with somebody, it's like us coming together. That's one of the last steps before we put out that little MP3 file. I would never wanna dictate a rapper, but I feel like when I'm in the studio, we be trying to go the extra mile. When I'm in the studio, I be saucin' up my own songs. Like, D Savage will do a hook, and I'm right there like, "Aight, chop up this beat like this, and let’s try to get this effect." I don't know how to engineer, but I know how to produce, so we'll just sit there with an engineer and get the right beat chops and shit. When you do all those beat chops, and you mold it around the vocal, that's when it really becomes a song. That's when it really comes together, that's the difference between a rapper just getting on a beat. You can get on a beat, but if they don't take the time to mold the beat, and make sure it drops whenever that rapper wants, or if he wants it to drop out, or if we need the bass to hit two times in a row on an off beat, that's the difference.
Do you prefer collaborating or producing solo?
If it's a collab, cool. If it's not, cool. I don't prefer one or the other, I love working with other people though. It's all in the moment. Maybe I'll make a beat, and then, to me, it's finished. Or maybe, I'll make something and then I'll send it over to somebody else just to send it over. I just be working in the moment, and I have a lot of collab beats out there. A lot of people be tryna [look] down on that, but I don't give a fuck about none of that. I don't even give a fuck about this music shit; these people think I'm doing it to be validated by them.